Resource Management Act: RMA Link: Topics: Details

The RMAlink project aims to make community participation in all Resource Management Act processes more straightforward and less time-consuming. More effective participation from those with a concern for the environment will contribute towards improving environmental outcomes nationwide.

Topics: Details

Hosted by:

Wellington Community Network
Subject Biodiversity and Habitats

Text Significant Habitats

The Resource Management Act requires regional councils, unitary authorities and district councils to protect terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species.

Section 5 includes within the purpose of the Act; 5(2) (b) Safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air water, soil and ecosystems.

Section 6 includes under matters of national importance; 6(c) The protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna.

While this wording conveys the high importance to be given to habitat protection, the Act does not define any criteria for establishing what is significant. Nor does it define exactly what safeguarding the life-supporting capacity..of ecosystems means. It does not ensure a consistent standard of habitat protection nationwide. During a plan review, environmental advocacy from interested groups and individuals is important, so that effective protection of habitats can be achieved.

New Zealands conservation estate, administered by the Department of Conservation, protects a range of our indigenous habitats and species. Regional and local authorities also own large areas of land with conservation values. But not all habitat and ecosystem types are well represented in reserves and parks. Many important habitats remain on land that is in private ownership.

Significant Natural Areas
District plans will contain a list of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs.). The list is usually based on recommendations provided by DOC, based on ecological surveys. Further study is usually required to determine appropriate boundaries for mapping, and to prioritise areas for action (or differing levels of protection) using a suitable set of criteria.

If you are reviewing a plan, you may want to obtain reports from DOC or from your local or regional council. Check what criteria have been used, and what proportion of the SNAs identified have been included in the list. Plan rules should require stricter standards on activities within, or adjacent to significant natural areas.

General Habitat Protection
Clear district plan policies that promote habitat protection are important. They provide guidance for decisionmakers to refer back to when considering a resource consent or subdivision application. Clear policy guidance will give some level of protection to habitats which are of value, but are not included in the significant list. Suggestions for policies and methods that will strengthen habitat protection can be found in the Forest and Bird publication Stopping the Bulldozers Before They Start. p39-59.

Plan rules relating to earthworks, land disturbance, removal of indigenous vegetation, and wetland modification should be carefully examined during a plan review. What size of area and type of native vegetation may be cleared as a permitted activity? Is there a time limit included, e.g. no more than 0.5ha in any 5-year period? Would rules permit removal of regenerating native vegetation for forestry? Do subdivision / earthworks / land disturbance rules protect catchments that drain into wetland and estuarine areas?

Waitakere Citys rules on earthworks and vegetation clearance activities may provide a useful reference as a starting point.

Non-Regulatory Measures
As land use intensifies, habitats often survive as individual, separate remnants. Councils can be proactive in re-establishing linkages between remnants through reserve acquisition, or negotiating covenants at key locations. In your submission, you can ask for such policies to be included.

Ecological processes in these remnants have often been disrupted, so their long-term viability is under threat without human intervention. Your submission can propose policies that promote pest plant and animal control, and financial assistance or rates relief for fencing and riparian planting.

Councils can actively support schemes that give legal protection to significant habitats, and assist landowners with management. This can be achieved through QEII Trust covenants, and covenanting or purchase through Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui funding schemes. Find out more about these funds at

Management of Conflict
During plan reviews, tensions typically arise between landowners, and sectors of the community who seek certainty with regard to habitat protection. Understandably, landowners wish to make use of their land without unnecessary outside interference or compliance costs. They may disagree with the councils assessment that habitats on their land are significant, and may wish to alter the boundaries of protected areas.

These tensions must be worked through during the plan review process, through further submissions, involving all stakeholders in meetings and negotiations, and perhaps mediation. If resolution is not reached, references can be made to the Environment Court.

Community Participation
Your groups involvement during a plan review is important in reaching a satisfactory balance an approach that is not unnecessarily restrictive on landowners, but provides reliable outcomes for protecting habitats, and overall biodiversity. You may consider a simple 5-minute submission adding your support to groups who have made more thorough submissions, such as Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, and DOC.



Royal New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society Inc. (1995) Stopping the Bulldozers Before They Start: The Forest and Bird Guide to Resource Management Plans.
Royal New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society Inc., Wellington.
Useful guidance for those preparing submissions on plans. Background explanation of process, and specific suggestions for protection of terrestrial, wetland, freshwater and coastal habitats. Out of print. Try your library.

Davis, M. and Meurk, C. (2001) Protecting and Restoring Our Natural Heritage: A Practical Guide.
Department of Conservation, Christchurch. 94p. ISBN 0 478 22120 7
Available online from See Canterbury under Regional Info. Or order from Motukarara Conservation Nursery, RD 2, Christchurch.
This guide discusses protection and restoration of individual habitat remnants in the context of a whole landscape or ecosystems approach. Good sections on Legal Protection (covenants and other methods) and Remnant Ecosystems and Their Management- non-regulatory measures that could be incorporated into plan policies and rules.

Froude, V. and Beanland, R. (1999) Review of Environmental Classification Systems and Spatial Frameworks.
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington.
Explains ecological assessment frameworks used to prioritise areas for protection. Classification of NZs environments into ecological districts, DOCs Protected Natural Areas Programme. Discusses various approaches taken by regional councils to identify and prioritise significant habitats.
Available online at

PCE (2001) Weaving Resilience Into Our Working Lands Recommendations for the Future Roles of Native Plants.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington. 90p ISBN 0 908804 99 7
Discusses issues surrounding retention, protection and restoration of native vegetation on private land, its importance for ecological sustainability. Includes roles of local and regional authorities, the RMA, and plan rules. Comprehensive reference list.

MFE (1999) Managing Vegetation Disturbance Activities Under the RMA: The Way Forward. Working Paper. Ministry for the Environment, Wellington. ISBN 0 478 09070 6
Discussion of impacts of land clearance for forestry plantations.

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc. (2004) Handbook of Environmental Law.
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc., Wellington.
Chapter 15 Biodiversity and Sustainability, p385-408 Discusses protection of SNAs, and their importance within overall biodiversity preservation context. SNA assessment criteria listed on p404.

Journal Articles

Donahue, D. (2003) The Law and Practice of Open Space Covenants
NZ Journal of Environmental Law Vol 7, p119-168.
Article deals mainly with QE11 Trust covenants.

Voight, Christina (2003) Protection of Indigenous Forests on Private Land Role of Local Government.
NZ Journal of Environmental Law Vol 7, p169-202.

Lyons, Keith (2003) A Helping Hand for Nature.
Forest and Bird, no 308, May 2003. p24-27.
Article looks at the work of the Nature Heritage Fund and the related fund, Nga Whenua Rahui, in assisting landowners to protect areas of high conservation value. Contributions are available towards costs of fencing, covenanting, survey and legal costs, management, and purchase.

Web-Based Resources

Resources: The Forest and Bird Site has a wide range of information relating to the protection of all types of habitats.

Resources: Site of the QE2 Trust, whose voluntary open space covenant system is used to protect many significant habitats on private land throughout New Zealand.

Resources: Site of the NZ Ecological Society. Abstracts of NZ Journal of Ecology articles available, also newsletters, and submissions on government environmental policy.


Regular Publications

Relevant Case Law